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Cameras, not phones, seen as photography mainstay
( 2004-01-18 14:54) (Agencies)

Digital cameras will endure as the primary method of capturing images near term, despite the rapid rise of picture-taking mobile phones, a panel of industry experts said.

Cameras built into phones are perfect for "incremental" spur-of-the moment snapshots. But for vacations, weddings and other important events, consumer are likely to reach for a more powerful camera with a robust flash.

"A lot of consumers already own very good cameras, and they are used to features like zoom," said John Solomon, vice president of consumer imaging and printing at Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE:HPQ - news), speaking at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week.

Picture phones take low-quality pictures for viewing on another phone, e-mailing to someone, or posting on the Web. Most cannot perform creative functions like zoom or adjusting depth of field, and the pictures they produce would make poor prints.

"(For special moments) people are going to want better quality and use the options that a dedicated camera gives them," said Paul D'Andrea, Senior Vice President at Fuji Photo Film USA, a unit of Fuji Photo Film Co. Ltd. (4901.T).

Still, consumers consider the camera lens to be a handy add-on to mobile phones, and have fueled demand for new phones. Moreover, picture phone use may boost digital camera sales, as consumers warm up to the routine of snapping, storing and distributing pictures without film.

"Camera phones are going to help people become more comfortable with digital imaging," said Chip Novick, a vice president at Sprint Corp.'s (NYSE:FON - news) PCS division.

The speakers added that the manufacturers of camera phones will increasingly make them more powerful, but the timing of their introduction through wireless carriers will depend on their ability to keep prices reasonable.

According to Consumer Electronics Association estimates, demand for both cameras and phones will grow significantly this year. Digital camera makers will ship 15.3 million units this year up from about 12.5 million in 2003, while mobile phones units will hit 84.6 million, up from 70.5 million.

Sales of digital cameras in 2003 were expected for the first time to outpace film cameras, but many consumer are still put off by the pricey cameras and complexity of transferring a digital image to a computer or printer.

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